Written by: Kendall A. | Umm Iman
As parents, we are all concerned about the spirituality of our children and the ultimate destinations of their souls. We spend countless hours making dua for them and doing everything that we can to teach them about the deen, to instill a love of Allah in them, and to share Islam with them in the most beautiful ways. We also know that the first six years of life are the most critical in developing a child’s character, manners, and healthy attachment to parents. So how we can maximize on this special time without making learning stressful and boring? Here’s what has worked for our family and how we approach this subject.
The first five years for us are less formal and more experiential. My main focuses with regard to “teaching,” or perhaps a better word is “living” Islam are these: principles of faith, connection to Allah, and beautiful manners/character development. What does this look like in action? In the “Principles of Faith” category, my focus is on teaching my children what a Muslim believes–the five pillars and the six articles of faith. This can be taught with simple flashcards, but even more than that, these are the things that children see daily.
When we start, end, and carry out our days with remembering Allah and with making dua as we approach each new task, our children witness our commitment to “La ilaha illAllah, MuhammadurRasool Allah.” They watch us interact with the salah multiple times a day. We can encourage their participation in the salah by providing them with their own prayer materials–a child-sized prayer mat, hijabs and kufis that fit them, dhikr beads, and if we have the space, their own small musalla. They can even help to create these items to make them more meaningful. At this early stage in life, we don’t want to force our children to make salah or punish them for not knowing all of the steps or leaving the jummah if we are praying in the masjid. Instead, we simply want to invite them to pray with us and give lots of hugs and snuggles for their efforts and participation. We want them to have sentiments of peace, tranquility, and happiness associated with the salah, so that they desire to engage with it, both when we are praying, but also on their own when they feel inspired to do so. We can remind children that the salah is a special time for us to communicate with Allah and that salah and dua are always available to us.
The concept of zakat can be shared through acting upon generosity. Small children may not grasp the concept of giving 2.5% of our total wealth to those in need; however, they can understand generosity through gift giving, donating our items that are no longer useful to us, sharing with our friends and family members, and budgeting so that we collect monies for sadaqah. We want to encourage a generous and thoughtful heart by involving our children in the process of choosing what to donate and gift to others, and allow them to see the impact of their good deed on the people whose lives it benefits.
Ramadan is a perfect opportunity to include our children in the excitement of the month. There is so much that we can do to make the month special for them and to teach them about its significance and rituals. (This is really a separate post in and of itself, but what I want to stress here is having children be involved in the spirit of this month through connecting with the Quran and fasting. That is not to say that children of this age will do either in the same way that an adult or older child would; however, we can help them to feel that they are participating by listening to or practicing some short surahs and being more mindful about their eating throughout the day.)
We can teach children about the Hajj by sharing stories, watching the livestream–especially during Dhul Hijjah, asking friends and family members who have gone on Hajj to share their experiences, and recreating the rituals associated with completing the Hajj at home through role-play or small world play, so that they feel connected to the practices.
Similarly, with the articles of faith, we want to stress the oneness of Allah and that He is our friend who is always there for us, even when our parents and loved ones are not physically present and available to us. We can discuss the presence of the angels in the lives of the prophets, as well as in our presence when it rains and on Laylat al Qadr. We share the Quran by playing it in our homes, teaching our children short surahs, and having them see that we are reading and memorizing it as well. We can share the stories of the prophets in child-friendly language. We want to remind our children that we will one day meet Allah face-to-face and that we want Allah to be happy with us on that day, in sha Allah. And we can tell our children in each decision that we make that Allah plans our lives to be the best for us, because of His love for us. If our children have these core concepts of what it means to be a Muslim, in terms of belief, from a young age, in sha Allah they will hold on to these throughout their lives.
The next concept that I look at his “Connection to Allah.” In this category, I consider what it means to know Allah intimately and personally. To do this, I like to do a lot of hands-on, art projects, nature-based exploration, and discussion to teach about the 99 Names of Allah. When we, as people ,know Allah, we can connect and feel strong in our spiritual attachment, and this is what I want my children to feel–the true presence and friendship of Allah in their lives. In this category, I also place dua and Quran. Dua is the opportunity to talk to Allah, to share our challenges and desires, and to feel invested in something that is greater than ourselves. As children are naturally born on the fitra, we want to develop this by building that connection to Allah through mentioning Him in our daily lives, with His multiple names and through making dua with our children. Dua is our communication with Allah as Quran is Allah’s communication with us. Here, we can encourage a love of the Quran through playing it in our homes, teaching short surahs to our children, and having them see our usage of the physical kitab, so that they will also become interested in it.
In the final section: Beautiful Manners/Character Development, I look at good manners and teaching characteristics of kindness, empathy, generosity, forgiveness, etc. as they pertain to the Islamic character as shown to us by Prophet Muhammad SAW. This can be achieved through story-telling and reminding children that these aspects of character development and manners are loved by Allah and a means of us emulating the best role model–RasoolAllah SAW. We can also use this section to teach a basic understanding of who the Prophet SAW was by sharing some of his life experiences that exemplified his character.
As children age, there is more time to dive into the intricacies of formal knowledge. The early years are a time to introduce ideas in child-friendly ways, encourage children to see Allah swt as a friend, and begin memorizing and holding in their hearts dua and Quran. Right now, the main objective is to build love for Allah, for His Rasool SAW, for Islam, and connection to the Quran. In sha Allah, if we operate from this space, all of the other formal learning will come naturally and easier for our children when the time is right! In these early years, we are building a strong sense of spirituality whilst simultaneously exposing them to religiosity, which will continue to be built upon late in life. Because the two go hand-in-hand, it’s important that the spiritual connection is developed and nurtured early on for the religious component to link beautifully to later in life.